31 Mar What's Pushing Innovation in the Food Industry?
The dynamics of global markets, the convenience for consumers of food products, and sustainability are several examples of the much-discussed topics related to the future of food industry in media and forums. A recent study carried out by the British National Centre for Universities and Business concretes much more where the sector places their focus regarding innovation. Health and nutrition, waste, resource efficiency, shelf life, and regulation are major areas of interest for the companies in the United Kindom. Further collaboration and a more direct access to the valuable knowledge generated within universities and research centers are still issues of interest. Even so they are yet on the to-do list.
For some time, food companies have been showing their interest for meeting new demands of the consumer such as more healthy food, convenience, or transparency in the provenance of food. Just some figures: Global sales of health products are expected to reach one trillion dollars by 2017 according Euromonior, while the rise of organic food consumption will increase by 14% between 2013 and 2018 in the USA, one of the countries where this trend is stronger, and Millennials pull the demand of the convenience food.
Food companies in the United Kindom also suggest that they prefer to innovate in areas with potential such as health and wellness or any other where research and retailers confirm the interest of their consumers.
For 63% of the companies asked in the study “Science and Translation of Innovation in the Food Economy”, competition is a key driver of innovation, even though the lack of information about what other companies in the sector are doing until the products get to the market. For those companies operating in links of the food value chain where margins are low, this criteria is even more important since they have a constant need of innovating and launching new products because competition is more aggressive.
Regulations are both barriers and drivers for innovation, according to the respondents of the study. A very clear area where regulation is perceived as an obstacle is in genetic modification. However, regulation in the European Union has opened a vast field of work in the reformulation of food products under health claims. For instance, being salt used both for seasoning and preserving food, reducing its presence forces food companies to look for alternatives, making major changes in their current recipes and preparing themselves and their new products for an increasing demand for healthier food.
The desire of increasing the environmental efficiency of products joins in some cases the aim of cutting costs. Reducing food waste or looking for improvements or alternatives in energy use are normally behind the interests regarding innovation for efficiency.
For a quarter of companies participating in the British study, this is an important driver in innovation. As an incentive, cost reduction helps to ensure projects’ acceptance and works together with other measures aimed to boost competitiveness.
On the horizon
In the same study, food companies identify external and internal collaboration as well as universities and research centers as key factors for innovation.
In the first case, major advances have been made in external collaboration, while there is internal resistance to change due to the lack of processes to implement it.
Secondly, food companies feel that the number of universities with the right knowledge for them is still slow, and that a partnership with a research center is expensive and hard to handle since aspects such as timescale operate completely differently.